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A year’s paid paternity leave and unlimited holiday – PR stunts, or genius ideas?
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  3. A year’s paid paternity leave and unlimited holiday – PR stunts, or genius ideas?


Sir Richard Branson announced recently that he would be giving all of his male employees a year’s paid paternity leave – with full pay. Surely this is a great idea that businesses should consider learning from?

What on the surface seems like a good plan for Virgin employees seems to unravel once you look into the details though. First of all the employees will need to have been working at Virgin for more than four years, and they will also have to work in management as part of Virgin’s investment and brand licensing arm. Those that are new to the company will get proportionately less – less than 25% for less than two years’ service.

Despite this, and although the policy only actually affects around 140 members of Virgin’s huge staff, it will likely offer significantly more than the standard statutory rate of pay, and represents progress by Virgin towards offering more family leave for parents in their business.

Is a year’s paid paternity leave feasible for small business?

But would a year’s paid paternity leave be feasible for a small business? There are certainly pros and cons for introducing a scheme like this.

The cons are fairly obvious. You could lose a key employee for an extended period, and still have to pay them – even if you only choose to give them statutory pay this is still a fair amount of time to be paying for when they aren’t in the office.

However, there are positives to offering a year’s paternity leave too. After all, you’re missing out on having an over-tired new parent working in the office; potentially creating a negative atmosphere or even making costly mistakes. Also, if employees know that you value them having time away from work with their family, engagement with your business is likely to be higher.

So a year’s paternity leave may not be all that bad for a small business. However, I’m not sure it’s really feasible for any but the largest organisations currently.

Unlimited holiday and small business

A year’s paternity leave isn’t the first headline-grabbing change that Sir Richard Branson has made for his employees though. Last year he announced he would be offering 170 of his employees as much holiday as they like.

Unlimited holiday is a difficult idea for some. Some believe that it might lead to less of a disconnect between the home and the office, as there is no regimented structure as to when employees are ‘on’ and ‘off’ work. Also, for small businesses, how can they control how their employees’ work for them when they can go on leave whenever they like?

There are certainly ways for employers to do this, and small businesses certainly do it, however it just takes a bit more management. For example, the usual premise is that employees are responsible for getting the job done, and it doesn’t really matter when or how you do it, therefore the vital part is taking the time to help employees understand that they should only leave for holiday if they know they have everything either completed or covered for when they’re away. Similar to working from home, communication is the key.

And the benefits to unlimited holiday? Other than the obvious value to attract new employees who want to take more time for themselves, there is a positive for employee engagement too.

We’ve written on employee motivation previously, but the key point with unlimited holiday is that you are giving employees the respect that you know they’ll be responsible, and also giving them a real impression of how they impact on your businesses success. After all, they can only go on holiday if they know that their absence won’t compromise the company.

So the jury’s out on whether these schemes are really the future of employee management, but they are certainly interesting steps forward that enable employers to learn new ways to keep their employees engaged. Time will tell whether it works for Virgin (and more importantly if they roll it out for all rather than just top management), but kudos to Sir Richard for trying something new!

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